by Idaho Department of Labor Director Melinda S. Smyser
Not too long ago, St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood found itself in need of a medical lab scientist. After searching eight months for a qualified applicant, hospital officials worked with their local Idaho Department of Labor office to develop a registered apprenticeship program. Today the program is working so well St. Mary’s plans to set up a second apprenticeship for the same skill set.
As I meet with Idaho employers, they tell me they all have one thing in common with St. Mary’s Hospital. They need a pipeline of skilled workers with industry-specific training and hands-on experience.
Registered apprenticeships are a proven strategy for successfully building that pipeline and benefits both businesses and job seekers. Most employers see reduced turnover costs, greater employee retention, increased productivity and an average of $1.05 returned for every dollar they invest in their employees.
Apprentices benefit by on-the-job training and earn while they learn, reducing student debt. They see increased opportunities for promotion and higher wages over the course of their careers. Nationally, nine out of 10 find themselves gainfully employed at an average starting salary of $60,000 per year, and over the course of their careers, earn $300,000 more than their non-apprenticed peers.
As a new resident of eastern Idaho, I am quickly learning there is much more to this traditionally rural area than I anticipated. Each region in Idaho is immensely different from one another, but eastern Idaho has vast diversity within itself. The rural, scenic, untouched beauty of Custer and Clark counties is hard for many people to find within a reasonable distance of their daily lives. In Idaho, these scenic views are just a couple of hours drive away. The Idaho Falls metropolitan area is alive, well and the forefront of economic mobility in the region. Although small compared to metro areas nationally, swift and advanced development of medical facilities, retail shopping and restaurants makes the Idaho Falls metro area an ideal place for young families or for a retirement in paradise. Along with the many economic upsides, there are also challenges for this part of the state.
Eastern Idaho is made up of nine counties; one urban and eight rural. Each county has experienced population growth within the last few years. Teton County, a rural county and close neighbor of Wyoming, has experienced a 34 percent population hike since 2010. After recently visiting the towns of Victor and Driggs, the reasons behind this rapid growth are clear. These quaint towns are infused with rich culture, diverse food and gorgeous views of the Teton Mountains with the kind of outdoor recreational activities most people dream about. For these reasons and more, there is an influx of migrants – retirees, young outdoor enthusiasts and people of all ages – swarming to these towns looking for adventure.
Recent employment and economic projections indicate southeastern Idaho’s economy may finally be heating up.
For much of the last decade, southeastern Idaho’s economy has struggled to grow. Impacted by the previous recession, covered employment in the region increased less than 2 percent from 2004 to 2014. While the region saw impressive growth leading up to the recession, growing 8 percent from 2004 to 2007, employment in the region began to fall as the housing crisis affected the economy. After peaking in 2007, the region lost jobs the following four years. By 2011, covered employment in southeastern Idaho had fallen by more than 5,000 jobs.
Although the region began adding jobs each year since 2011, the tepid growth has done little to make up for the jobs lost during the recession. By the end of 2014, total covered employment was still 3,500 jobs shy of the region’s pre-recession peak, and total job growth over the decade increased less than 2 percent – well below the statewide growth of 10 percent over the same time.
Wage growth in the region has proven more resilient. The average wage in the region has increased from $26,370 in 2004 to $33,687 by 2014, growing by an annual average of 2.5 percent over the decade. This outpaced the statewide annual growth by a tenth of a percent. It should be noted however, that after accounting for inflation the actual buying power for the average wage earner improved slightly more than 2 percent over the decade.
Idaho students training to become auto mechanics at the Dennis Professional Technical School in Boise, Idaho.
The need for automotive service technicians and mechanics in Idaho is expected to grow 14.9 percent from 3,079 workers in 2012 to 3,537 in 2022, according the 2012-2022 Long-Term Occupational Projections issued by the Idaho Department of Labor.
Nationwide, this occupation will grow by 13.6 percent, according to estimates provided by Economic Modeling Systems International, an independent economic forecasting firm.
Multiple factors may contribute to Idaho’s stronger-than-average projected growth in this occupation. One may be related to income. Idaho’s per capita income in 2013 stood at $36,146, nationally the figure was $40,316. The gap in income is likely to cause more Idahoans to drive and buy older vehicles. Older vehicles are generally in need of greater repair and maintenance, so the need for mechanics and automotive technicians increases due to demand.
At the peak of the housing boom in 2007, construction jobs hit 53,250 statewide with an annual payroll just under $2 billion. In 2014, the sector had barely 35,000 jobs that paid $1.37 billion.
Construction has historically been strongest in southwestern Idaho – the state’s population center. Ada and Canyon counties account for almost 40 percent of the state’s population. The remaining eight counties add another 6 percent to bring total population of the region to over 737,000. From 2013 to 2014, the number of construction jobs increased just over 1,100 in the region, where almost half the state’s construction jobs are, while northern Idaho’s five counties – anchored by Kootenai County – posted the second largest increase at nearly 450.
The education people receive and the skills they attain greatly influence their economic well-being, but successfully navigating the labor market is no simple task, and understanding the history of eastern Idaho’s labor market, its current growth and the specific industries that are growing can make it easier.
After several years of slow growth, the U.S. labor market appears to be picking up. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 295,000 increase in February’s nonfarm payroll employment, marking the 12th straight month payrolls grew by more than 200,000 – the first time since a 19-month run in 1993 to 1995. Continue reading
The biggest demand for workers in south central Idaho is in the second half of the year when weather is more certain. Two-thirds of all part-time and full-time job listings with the Idaho Department of Labor are placed from July to December – a favorable time of year encompassing crop harvests that underpin the regional economy as well as being conducive to completing construction projects. Retail picks up with back-to-school and the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
The department’s job listings for south central Idaho have been increasing since the end of the recession as demand picked up from existing businesses that froze payrolls during the downturn and from new and expanding companies.